Updated on 09/15/2011 12:36PM

Expect Blueprint's 'A' race


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - With Bienamado, the nation's top-ranked turf horse, skipping Sunday's $200,000 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park, the race becomes much more competitive.

While the Grade 2 Sunset lacks a prominent name, it remains an intriguing betting race that could produce a few starters for the major stakes of the late summer and fall, such as the Arlington Million, in which Bienamado will run, or the preps for the Breeders' Cup Turf.

There are four leading contenders for the Sunset - Blueprint, Kudos, Loving, and Northern Quest. All four can win. The Editor, the only other starter, is an overmatched claimer.

Blueprint, the likely favorite, won the San Luis Rey Handicap last March, and was third to Bienamado in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita on April 14, which was his last start.

Trainer Bob Hess Jr. has emphasized that Blueprint is best with time between races.

"I think we should see Blueprint's A-plus effort," Hess said. "I think in the San Luis Rey, he gave an A-minus or an A. This will be as well as he can run."

Blueprint is a closer who will be chasing a pace set by Kudos, a 4-year-old trained by Richard Mandella. Kudos is undefeated in four starts since being gelded, a streak that includes the May 12 Jim Murray Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf, the same distance as the Sunset. Mandella considered the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap on June 10 for Kudos's graded stakes debut, but bypassed that in favor of the Sunset.

"He got good fast, but he was tired," Mandella said. "He seems to have recovered and done well in the last few weeks."

Loving, a Brazilian-bred, is making his United States stakes debut, having won an allowance race in his first start for trainer Neil Drysdale on June 21.

"It's a big jump from nonwinners-of-two to the Sunset," Drysdale said. "He's a mile and a half horse."

Like Blueprint, Northern Quest has chased Bienamado and is returning from a rest. Second to Bienamado in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup last December, Northern Quest is searching for his fourth graded stakes win in the last 12 months. Among those victories were the Arlington and Del Mar handicaps last year and the Golden Gate Breeders' Cup Handicap in March.

The Sunset will be Northern Quest's first start since he finished last of 13 in the Explosive Bid Handicap at Fair Grounds on March 25. The lack of pace to go with Kudos is a concern for trainer Bobby Frankel, who knows Northern Quest will be coming from the back.

Said Frankel, "There's no speed, but he's as ready as he can be."